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Bumper crop in the park

Tuesday afternoon was a gloriously sunny 28C, perfect for a walk west out of Riverdale, through the park and across the pedestrian bridge over the DVP, which is exactly what I did. Over the bridge stands Riverdale Farm, an enclave of what us city folk imagine as quaint and old-fashioned.

Just past the old farm’s front gate was a bustling tent city, where a temporary community of bakers and farmers, priests and hippies, young mothers and office workers mingled and ducked into the fleeting shade of one tent or another. It was the first of this year’s weekly Friends of Riverdale Farm Farmers’ Market, now in its seventh year in Riverdale Park West (which is actually in Cabbagetown). The market, which runs every Tuesday from 3 to 7 p.m. through October, is a place where Riverdale Farm’s old-fashioned ways have been updated for the 21st century, rebranded as local and organic.

“It’s wonderful to be in the city again,” says Peter Finch of the Quinte Organic Farmers’ Co-operative, made up of 12 small organic growers. “It’s a long winter for us and the first fruits are coming from the countryside now. We pick everything fresh when we come into market and it’s wonderful to be back and see our regular customers.”

The market was founded in 2001 after an organic grower from Severn Bridge in Muskoka and a friend of current market manager Elizabeth Harris asked for help in finding an organic farmers’ market in Toronto. “We got a permit to block off the street at the end of Winchester Street,” she remembers. “After a couple of days it became evident that the pigs smelled too much down there and someone said, ‘Oh, you should go in the park.’ And so we moved over in the park. It’s grown every year since then.”

Part of that growth can be attributed to the current push toward greener living and environmental sustainability, but a dedicated following of loyal customers and the sense of community among the vendors are the real secret of this market’s success, Harris says.

“The wonderful thing is that they’re all sort of buying from each other and trading with each other,” she says. “We have a guy who will be here next week that makes lamb burgers and he gets his buns from Alli’s Catering over there.”

So successful has her market been that Harris has been approached to start a second one, this one up the Don Valley at the Brickworks. “I’ve been hired by Evergreen to be the market manager over there,” she says. “We’ll be starting with Doors Open Toronto on May 26. I’ll have four craft vendors at each market. We’ll also have workshops put on by the Evergreen Foundation and we will have children’s entertainment every week as well.

“And Jamie Kennedy, I hope, will be selling french fries!”

National Post
Saturday, May 12, 2007
Page: TO4
Section: Toronto: The City
Byline: Philip Alves